Traditional Japanese musical instruments

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Women playing the Shamisen, Tsuzumi, and Taiko in Meiji-era Japan.

Traditional Japanese musical instruments, known as wagakki (和楽器) in Japanese, are musical instruments used in the traditional folk music of Japan. They comprise a range of string, wind, and percussion instruments.

Percussion instruments[edit]

  • Bin-sasara (編木、板ささら); also spelled bin-zasara – clapper made from wooden slats connected by a rope or cord
  • Hyoshigi (拍子木) – wooden or bamboo clappers
  • Den-den daiko (でんでん太鼓)pellet drum, used as a children's toy
  • Ikko – small, ornately decorated hourglass-shaped drum
  • Kagura suzu – hand-held bell tree with three tiers of pellet bells
  • Kakko (羯鼓) – small drum used in gagaku
  • Kane () – small flat gong
  • Kokiriko (筑子こきりこ) – a pair of sticks which are beaten together slowly and rhythmically
  • Shakubyoshi (also called shaku) – clapper made from a pair of flat wooden sticks
  • Mokugyo (木魚, also called 'wooden fish') – woodblock carved in the shape of a fish, struck with a wooden stick; often used in Buddhist chanting
  • Ōtsuzumi (大鼓) – hand drum
  • Rin or daikin (大磬) – singing bowls used by Buddhist monks in religious practice or rituals
  • San-no-tsuzumi (三の鼓) – hourglass-shaped double-headed drum; struck only on one side
  • Sasara (ささら) – clapper made from wooden slats connected by a rope or cord
  • Sekkin – a lithophone either bowed or struck
  • Shime-daiko (締太鼓) – small drum played with sticks
  • Shōko (鉦鼓) – small bronze gong used in gagaku; struck with two horn beaters
  • Taiko (太鼓, lit.'great drum')
  • Tsuri-daiko (太鼓) – drum on a stand with ornately painted head, played with a padded stick
  • Tsuzumi () – small hand drum

String instruments[edit]





  • Biwa – a pear-shaped lute


  • Gottan or hako-jamisen
  • lit.'three strings' (三線Sanshin) – an Okinawan precursor of the mainland Japanese (and Amami Islands) shamisen
  • Shamisen (三味線) – a banjo-like lute with three strings; brought to Japan from China in the 16th century. Popular in Edo's pleasure districts, the shamisen is often used in kabuki theater. Made from red sandalwood and ranging from 1.1 to 1.4 metres (3 ft 7 in to 4 ft 7 in) long, the shamisen has ivory pegs, strings made from twisted silk, and a belly covered in cat or dog skin or a synthetic skin.[a] The strings, which are of different thickness, are plucked or struck with a tortoise shell, ivory or synthetic ivory pick.
  • Tonkori (トンコリ) – a plucked instrument used by the Ainu people of Hokkaidō


  • Kokyū – a bowed lute with three (or, more rarely, four) strings and a skin-covered body

Wind instruments[edit]


Japanese flutes are called fue (). There are eight traditional flutes, as well as more modern creations.

  • Hocchiku (法竹) – vertical bamboo flute
  • Nohkan (能管) – transverse bamboo flute used for Noh theater
  • Ryūteki (龍笛) – transverse bamboo flute used for gagaku
  • Kagurabue (神楽笛) – transverse bamboo flute used for mi-kagura (御神楽), Shinto ritual music)
  • Komabue (高麗笛) – transverse bamboo flute used for komagaku; similar to the ryūteki
  • Shakuhachi (尺八) – vertical bamboo flute used for Zen meditation
  • Shinobue (篠笛) – transverse folk bamboo flute
  • Tsuchibue (土笛(つちぶえ), lit.'earthen flute') – globular flute made from clay
  • Bow flute (弓笛) – a flute developed by Ishida Nehito with bow hair on it to accompany the kokyū.[1]

Reed instruments[edit]

  • Hichiriki (篳篥) – double-reeded flute used in different kinds of music

Free reed mouth organs[edit]


  • Horagai (法螺貝) – seashell horn; also called jinkai (陣貝)

Other instruments[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Though animal skin was used in previous decades—as recently as the 1970s—due to a decline in its production, synthetic skins, which are considered to provide a generally equal sound quality, are typically used in the modern day. During its period of common use, cat skin was used for finer instruments, and dog skin was used for practice instruments.


  1. ^ "素麺箱玲琴・弓笛製作 of 胡弓・大胡弓・玲琴・クーチョー・雛胡弓など多彩な胡弓を奏でる胡弓演奏家石田音人 胡弓奏者石田音人の音楽活動を紹介".


  • Gunji, Sumi; Johnson, Henry (2012). A Dictionary of Traditional Japanese Musical Instruments: From Prehistory to the Edo Period. Tokyo: Eideru Kenkyūjo. ISBN 978-4-87168-513-9..